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February 13, 2015 / Robert Ross

linguistic drama

Sign at spec building site

Sign at spec building site

Every day as I drive to the gym and back I pass a construction site for a new home. Of course I notice it, after all creating homes is the major part of my business and I enjoy keeping up with what is going on in the various neighborhoods around me. This one looks like a nice contemporary. A more frequent occurrence these days. What really gets my blood going is the sign out in front announcing “Custom home for sale”.

According to Webster’s dictionary custom is defined as something made to order. A custom home, much like a custom suit, would be defined as one built for and to the specific needs of a particular client. The house I pass is definitely being built on speculation. I imagine that if it is sold while under construction, the builder might let the new owner make some finish selections. That is about as much opportunity for customization that is left. As it sits right now, most of the decisions surrounding style and layout have already passed the point of no return!

This misuse of the language is something that I see on a regular basis, especially in the real estate profession. There is a lack of precision that really drives me crazy. Neighborhood boundaries are routinely stretched to try to attract buyers or artificially raise value. Styles are totally misrepresented. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen colonial cottages referred to as craftsman classics, standard brick ranches are elevated in marketing to mid century modern.

These are just a couple of examples. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of friends and acquaintances that are in the real estate business who I like a lot. They are typically charming and outgoing individuals. I just wish they would exercise a little more care when it comes to using the English language in their marketing efforts. English is an incredibly rich and nuanced language. Rather than relying on what they think needs to be written to attract buyers, using a little more care might actually do it!

Beyond these examples, I everyday see and hear horrendous misuses of the language. The news stations have dumbed down their reporting to the point of being insulting to those of us with any type of education. Twitter with it’s 140 character limit and Facebook with its constant feed have also led to the decay.

Because I have early teens, I’ve been engaging in reading some young adult novels. I usually like to read the book before I see the movie. A few months ago I went back and re-read Dickens’s David Copperfield. The use of language in that book blew me away.

On television, I also tend to enjoy series on the BBC. The Brits don’t seem to rely on special effects for drama as much as we Americans do and the quality of the dialogue and how it moves the plot is far superior than what passes as quality TV on this side of the pond.

As far as today’s music goes, I am reminded of the current meme of the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit”. Let’s all try to enrich our world by relying expanding our vocabulary and really think about what we are trying to communicate.

Off to work!

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